Archive for the ‘1940s’ Category

The following is based on part eleven of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about quantum physics:

We used to think that science could give us a perfect picture of the material world. But we now know, because of quantum physics in the 1900s, that absolute knowledge is impossible. There is a limit to what we can know – even with the most perfect and most powerful instruments imaginable.

For example, with a high-powered electron microscope you can see atoms. Yet no matter how much you increase the power you will never get a sharp image.

Even something as simple and straightforward as the position of a star in the sky is not perfectly knowable: different human observers come up with different positions and even the same person repeating the observation does not come up with the very same answer each time.

Karl Gauss in 1795 noticed that the observations made a bell curve – the closer you get to the average position, the more observations there are. But you cannot even say that the star is at the average position – all you can say is that it is the most probable position, which is not quite the same thing as its true position.

Gauss lived in Gottingen, a small German university town. It was here, over a hundred years later, in the 1920s, that some of the leading minds of physics came on the train from Berlin to work out the physics of the atom and its parts: quantum physics.

The atom is made of moving parts, such as the electron, and yet there is something very strange about them. Werner Heisenberg in 1927 found that you can tell what the position of an electron is but not its speed and direction – or, if you nail down its speed and direction, then you cannot tell its position. It is one or the other but never both at the same time. This is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Gottingen had something else: a collection of skulls. These skulls were used to support a racist view of the world, a view of the world that dealt in inhuman certainties. It came to power in the person of Hitler. The skies darkened over Europe, as they had in the days of Galileo. The great minds of Europe fled – or fell silent:

It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

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Orwell: Why I Write

The following is based on George Orwell’s “Why I Write” (1946):

George Orwell knew he wanted to be a writer since he was five or six and yet avoided becoming one till he was 24 and did not firmly make up his mind to be one till 33. In the end he found he had to write.

In the 1700s he might have become a Christian minister:

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But he was born to evil times when evil men, like Hitler and Stalin, wanted to rule the world. Democracy was disappearing. After fighting in the Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1937 he made up his mind. He had two talents: he was good with words and he was good at facing unpleasant facts. So from 1936 onwards he used those talents to fight against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.

He says there are five motives that drive every writer to one degree or another; they are always there no matter how weak:

  1. To earn a living: Journalists are more concerned about money than serious writers, but even serious writers must eat.
  2. Sheer egoism: “Look at me!” Wanting to be remembered after you die, wanting to bend your life to your will instead of going with the flow like most people do after age 30. Writers share this in common with artists, scientists, businessmen, etc. Writers do not like to admit to it, but it is often their strongest motive.
  3. Aesthetic enthusiasm: the love of words and their beauty, of putting them together in the right way. Even textbook writers feel this. “Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free of aesthetic considerations.”
  4. Historical impulse: wanting to see things as they are and get the truth out.
  5. Political purpose: wanting to change the world by changing people’s ideas of the kind of society they should work for. Even “art for art’s sake” is a political stand.

In a more peaceful age the political motive would have barely mattered. As it was he found he wrote his best stuff when the political motive was uppermost. Anger at injustice drove him more than anything else:

I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

And yet as a serious writer he wanted to write well, to create art. It was not always easy to do both at the same time.

But in the end, as much as he might try to make sense of it, he says wanting to write is a mystery:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

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angelaAngela Davis, the black revolutionary, grew up in the American South in the 1940s and 1950s, in the days of Jim Crow, in black middle-class Birmingham, Alabama.

Her parents were teachers. They were highly educated compared to most blacks of the time – and most whites too. Her father saved his money and later went into business, buying his own service station. Her parents owned their own house.

Growing up she never went without a meal. She had dance and piano lessons. She never knew poverty. She thought all blacks lived that way. At school she was shocked to see that many black children ate nothing for lunch because they were too poor.

But even though she was not poor, she was still black:

  • She had to go to an all-black school in falling-apart buildings with falling-apart schoolbooks – though they did teach Black history and sang the Black National Anthem!
  • She could not go to the library but had to go round back and ask the black librarian for books.
  • She could not go to the shoe store but had to go round back and ask the black salesman for help.
  • She could not go to the amusement park – that was only for white children.
  • She was not allowed in certain hotels and cinemas: they were just for white people.
  • Even though she was middle-class she was still at the mercy of the police.

She dreamed of getting into the amusement park by wearing a white mask.

One day she and her sister went to the shoe store and walked right through the front door like they were white. They got away with it because they acted like they were foreigners. The white salesmen were falling over each other being nice to them. They were no longer “niggers”. Then they spoke in perfect English and left!

She loved books and was not much good at piano or dance – or the round of black middle-class parties.

One time she was caught in the rain and the other girls found out she had “good hair”. She ran home and cried.

Her house was on Center Street. Across the street everyone was white. It was called Dynamite Hill because whenever a black family tried to move across the street their house was blown up.

She and her friends would sometimes yell “cracker” and “peckerwood” as white people passed by in their cars. It was the only way they had to defend their dignity.

Her high school in Birmingham was said to be the largest black high school in the world. It was certainly the only one in hundreds of miles. It had grass in front only on postcards. And it was violent: fights often broke out, sometimes with knives: all the hatred from white people being turned on each other.

In 1959 at age 15 she left Birmingham for New York: she won a scholarship to study at a private high school there. Eleven years later she became one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted.

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Here are the top songs on the R&B charts now, 10 years ago today , 20 years ago, etc. Through the wonder that still is YouTube, you can hear them all (Can you believe it has already been ten years since “No Scrubs”?):

2009: Jamie Foxx and T-Pain: Blame It

1999: TLC: No Scrubs

1989:  Jody Watley: Real Love

1979: Peaches & Herb: Reunited

1969: The Isley Brothers: It’s Your Thing

1959: Brook Benton: It’s Just a Matter of Time

1949: Big Jay McNeeley’s Blue Jays: The Deacon’s Hop

Curiously, the hardest year was not 1949 but 1989! The top song on May 3rd 1989 was Karyn White’s “Love Saw It”. I could not even find a bad audio of a live performance for that one, so I went for Jody Watley’s “Real Love” which did not become number one till May 6th. But even with that one there was no embeddable music video for the radio version of the song.

Update: 2019: Lil Nas X: Old Town Road









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rwandaGenocide (1943) is like homocide, but where homocide is the murder of one man (Latin, homo), genocide is the murder of a people (Latin, gens). Like what Hitler did to the Jews, what Americans did to the American Indians or what the Hutus did to the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

When Hitler killed the Jews it was not against international law. In fact the word “genocide” was not even in the dictionary! The crime is ancient but our idea of it is a creation of the 1940s.

The word “genocide” was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin. He had gone to the League of Nations ten years before to try to get it outlawed, but they turned him down – even though they knew that the Turks had killed over a million Armenians in the First World War.

It did not become a part of international law, the law between nations, till 1950, five years after the fall of Hitler, and America did not agree to it as a part of international law till 1988!

As a part of international law the word has a very particular meaning:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

genociderwanda11Killing soldiers is not genocide – that is just war. But killing women and children and old men – unarmed people – just to wipe them out because of their race, religion, country or culture – like Jews, Armenians and Tutsis – that is genocide.

Killing people in huge numbers to carry out a revolution or to put down a revolution does not count. So the 20 million killed under Stalin, the 20 million under Mao and the half million under Suharto do not count as genocide.

That is no accident: the word was invented by the winners of the Second World War, so Stalin had a hand in it.

Selected genocides from 1492 to 1945:

  • 1492-1518: Spain: Tainos: 3 million in the Caribbean.
  • 1607-1890: Britain/US: American Indians: ?
  • 1645-1754: Russia: Siberians: ?
  • 1755-1758: China: Zunghars: 600,000.
  • 1788-1901: Britain: Australian Aboriginals: 20,000?
  • 1817-1867: Russia: Circassians: 1.5 million.
  • 1826-1829: Britain: Tasmanians: 6,000.
  • 1870s: Argentina: Patagonians: > 1,300.
  • 1885-1908: Belgium: Congolese: 22 million.
  • 1904-1908: Germany:  Hereros and Nama in Namibia: 70,000.
  • 1915-1918: Ottoman Empire: Greeks, Assyrians, Armenians: 3.15 million.
  • 1919-1920: Russia: Cossacks: 500,000.
  • 1933-1945: Germany and Eastern Europe: Jews, Gypsies and Slavs: 11 million.
  • 1937-1938: Japan: Chinese: 300,000 at Nanjing.
  • 1941-1945: Yugoslavia: Serbs: 650,000.
  • 1943-1944: Ukraine: Poles: 200,000.

All the genocides since 1945 that have killed at least 100,000 people:

  • 1945-1974: Ethiopia: Oromo, Eritreans, Somali: 150,000.
  • 1947: India: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs: 100,000s.
  • 1961-2003: Iraq: Kurds, Shiites, Kuwaitis: 190,000.
  • 1962-1986: Guatemala: Mayans, 200,000.
  • 1962-2007: Burma: Shan, Karen: 100,000.
  • 1967-1970: Nigeria: Igbos: 3 million.
  • 1972: Burundi: Hutus, 100,000.
  • 1974-1999: Indonesia: East Timorese: 200,000.
  • 1983-2005: Sudan: Nuer, Dinka, Christians, Nuba, etc: 1.9 million.
  • 1992-1995: Bosnia: Muslims: 200,000 – Srebrenica.
  • 1994: Rwanda: Tutsis: 800,000.
  • 1994-2000: Ethiopia: Oromo, etc: 100,000.
  • 2003-2010: Sudan: Darfuris: 400,000.

The eight stages of genocide:

  1. Classification: the division into “us and them”;
  2. Symbolization: applying symbols to the them to mark them out as pariahs, objects of hate;
  3. Dehumanization: seeing the pariahs as not truly human.
  4. Organization: training and arming;
  5. Polarization: silencing the voices in the middle that still stand up for the pariahs;
  6. Preparation: separating the pariahs from everyone else;
  7. Extermination: killing them;
  8. Denial: lying about it.

Source: Genocide Watch (2009), Wikipedia (2014). 

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tirailleurssenegalaisTirailleurs Senegalais (1857-1960) is French for “Senegalese sharpshooters”. It sounds like “Tear-a-year Senegalay”. It was the name for the French Empire’s black army from West Africa. You do not hear about them much, but about 200,000 of them fought in both world wars of the 1900s. They were at Gallipolli and the Somme, for example. They also fought for the empire in Morocco, Vietnam, Syria and Algeria. Despite the name, most were not from Senegal. Many came from what is now Mali and Burkina Faso.

Two-thirds of the French troops who fought to free France from Nazi Germany in 1944 were in fact black, mainly from the Tirailleurs Senegalais. The Americans, however, kept them from entering Paris. They thought it would be “more desirable” if Paris was freed by an all-white army division. They got their way.

Unlike the French and the British, the Americans still had an army separated by race. De Gaulle had to take his mixed army divisions and create an all-white division out of them to suit White American ideas about history. As it was, many of the soldiers who marched into Paris and seemed to be white Frenchmen were in fact Spanish and Middle Eastern.

The Tirailleurs Senegalais were not just robbed of their hero’s welcome: after they got back to Africa they protested about back pay. That led to a massacre by the French on December 1st 1944 at three in the morning at Camp de Thiaroye (there is a film by that name about it).

And there is more: most of the soldiers sank into poverty. After 1959 the French would no longer increase their pension to keep up with rising prices as they did for those  in France.

The Tirailleurs Senegalais were formed in 1857. Most were slaves at first. France did not have enough men to keep and hold its empire. It forced its foreign subjects to fight for the empire too. About half the Tirailleurs Senegalais stayed in West Africa while the rest were sent abroad to extend the empire and keep its peace.

In 1910 the book “La Force Noire” by Charles Mangin came out. Mangin argued that West Africa had a nearly bottomless supply of young men who could fight for France. Not only could blacks be trained to be good soliders, he said, but unlike white people blacks were not as worn out by work nor did they feel pain as much.

None of it was true, but the French jumped on it: they were in fear of the Germans who outnumbered them. So conscription became common in French West Africa. In Senegal about a third of the young men were forced to join the army.

When France fell to Nazi Germany in 1940 the Tirailleurs Senegalais suffered huge losses, about 17,000, because after the Germans won they killed many of them as savages while letting the white Frenchmen live.

Many of the soldiers were Muslim. The language of command was pidgin French and Bambara.

At least 47,000 died for France and its empire, but to this day no monument stands in Paris to honour them.

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robeson2Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was an American singer, actor and a fighter for equal rights for all men. He is best remembered for singing “Ol’ Man River” (1936).

In the 1930s and 1940s he was one of the best known black men in the world, but by the 1950s he had become known as a suspected communist.

His father was a slave who escaped through the Underground Railroad, later becoming a Presbyterian minister. He spoke out against injustice and was forced to resign. His mother was a schoolteacher. When Robeson was six her clothes caught on fire from the stove. She died.

From his father Robeson learned to have an “unshakable dignity and courage in spite of the press of racism and poverty”.

Robeson did well in school, became an All-American football player and then went to New York to get his law degree at Columbia University. He got into a top law firm but then found that whites refused to work with him.

He turned to stage acting. He was best known for playing the lead in “Emperor Jones” (1924, New York; 1925 London) and “Othello” (1930, London; 1943, New York). He also acted in films, “Show Boat” (1936) being his best-known. But later he left film acting: the stereotypes that Hollywood made blacks act out sickened him.

Robeson had a very deep, rich singing voice. He gave concerts and put out records. In 1925 he became the first person ever to give a concert of Negro spirituals.

But despite being a famous singer and actor who travelled the world performing, many whites still would not accept him. He was refused service at restaurants, rooms at hotels – and not just in the American South either.

In 1934 he travelled to the Soviet Union and there he found something he had never experienced before: “Here for the first time in my life … I walk in full human dignity.” He saw communism as the answer to racism.

In the 1940s he spoke out against racism in all its forms and continued to sing.

In 1950 the American government asked him to sign a piece of paper saying that he was not a communist. He refused. They took away his passport.

It got worse: He was blacklisted by concert halls. His records were pulled from shops. His income fell from $104,000 (145,000 crowns)  in 1947 to $2000. They even took away his title as an All-American football player.

When he was brought before the McCarthy hearings they asked why he did not live in the Soviet Union. He said:

Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?

He wrote a book about his life story, “Here I Stand”. When it came out in 1958 the New York Times refused to review it.

He got his passport back that year because of a Supreme Court ruling, but by then he was a broken man.

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The Battle of Midway (June 4th to 7th 1942) was a sea and air battle between the Japanese and Americans near the island of Midway, a thousand miles (1600 km) west of Hawaii. Japan lost four aircraft carriers, America only one. It was the turning point of the Pacific part of the Second World War, turning the war in favour of the Americans.

The top admirals at the battle: Yamamoto for the Japanese and Spruance for the Americans.

Aircraft carriers:

  • Japanese (4): Hiryu (sunk), Soryu (sunk), Akagi (sunk), Kaga (sunk)
  • American (3): Yorktown (sunk), Hornet, Enterprise

Before the battle Japan had more warships than anyone in the Pacific. America had lost most of their ships six months before at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. But it had broken the secret code of the Japanese and knew they would strike at Midway. That allowed America to put what few ships it had at the right place at the right time.

The battle turned at about 10:20 in the morning: the Japanese were preparing to send out a second wave of bombers, which were sitting on the flight decks of the carriers ready to take off in five minutes. Just then American dive bombers suddenly appeared from behind the clouds and destroyed the bombers and the three aircraft carriers they were on: the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. Only the Hiryu was left.

The fighter planes that were supposed to protect the carriers while the bombers got ready had been drawn off to fight American torpedo bombers. They destroyed most of them, but left the three ships naked and helpless.

The Hiryu went on to destroy the Yorktown, but in the end it was sunk too.

Before Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea a month before, sea battles were largely a fight between battleships with big guns. It had been that way for hundreds of years. But now the Americans had shown that it was aircraft carriers and their warplanes that mattered most. The Japanese knew that air power was important in sea battles, but the Americans had an even more profound understanding of this new fact.

Admiral Yamamoto, even after he lost his four carriers, still had far more ships. He might have pressed home his advantage to take Midway. And in the old days he would have. But having lost all his carriers he no longer had any air cover. His ships would be sitting ducks. So he had to pull back.

Churchill had said the British and Americans would gain the upper hand in the Pacific by May 1942. Not bad. He based that on how fast Japan, America and Britain were building ships. Battleships and carriers take years to build, so the loss of four carriers at Midway was a grave one for Japan: for every carrier Japan built, America built two. So once America got the lead, Japan would never catch up.

After the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, Australians no longer had to fear the Japanese landing on their shores.

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Negro (1555) is an outdated word meaning someone who seems to be at least part black African. From about 1712 to 1972 it was the main word in printed English for black people. Now it is kind of a put-down, except in certain phrases that come from that time, like  the “Negro League” and the “United Negro College Fund”.

“Negro” is what the Spanish and Portuguese called black people. That is no surprise because in their language it simply means “black”. The English had picked up the word from them by 1555. The word “nigger” comes from it. So does “negress. The word “night” is its distant cousin. So is the “nigra” in “denigration”.

In the 1600s, the words “Negroes” and “blacks” were about equally common in printed English. Negro did not clearly take over till the 1700s. Still, even in the 1780s, say, Jefferson rarely used the word, preferring “blacks” and especially “slaves”. Frederick Douglass in the 1840s and Solomon Northup in the 1850s preferred “colored”.

From 1749 onwards it was mostly written with a lower case n: “negro”, not “Negro”. In the 1920s, the NAACP pushed to have it capitalized. By 1928 the capitalized form became the most common. Two years later the New York Times started capitalizing it too: “in recognition of racial self-respect for those who have been for generations in the lower case.”

In the 1900s, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr and the early James Baldwin all preferred “Negro”. Booker T. Washington pushed for the US government to use it. The US Census used “Negro” from 1900 to 2010.

But that is printed, polite, middle-class usage. During Jim Crow times (1870s to 1960s), the main American working-class terms for black people were “coloured” and (among whites) “nigger”. Among ordinary black people, “Negro” was never all that common, probably because it sounded too much like the N-word. Whites often pronounced it as “Niggro”.

The 1960s swept all of that away.

Even though the early civil rights leaders used “Negro”, the word had become too much the creature of the older black leadership who thought the road to success and freedom in America was to act and dress and talk like white people, to depend on white approval.

By 1963 Malcolm X preferred “Black” to “Negro”. Notice how he uses the two words:

The Negro “revolution” is controlled by these foxy white liberals, by the government itself. But the black revolution is controlled only by God.

By 1966 Stokely Carmichael began to use “black” in place of “Negro”. Being black meant being proud of who you are. Black Power. Black pride. “Black is beautiful.” Two years later James Brown underscored that point with his song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”.

By 1974 the word “blacks” became more common than “Negroes” in printed (mostly white middle-class) English. Among blacks in the US, “Negro” now meant an Uncle Tom, someone faithful to white people.

In 2008 it went like this in printed English:

  • 51.9% Blacks or blacks
  • 25.4% African Americans (caught on in the 1980s)
  • 19.8% Negroes or negroes
  • 2.5% niggers
  • 0.3% coloreds

The last two were never all that common in print.

– Abagond, 2008, 2016. Pretty much rewritten in 2014.

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It cost me a lot
But there’s one thing
that I’ve got
It’s my man
It’s my man

Cold or wet
Tired, you bet
All of this I’ll soon forget
With my man

He’s not much on looks
He’s no hero out of books
But I love him
Yes, I love him

Two or three girls
Has he
That he likes as well as me
But I love him

I don’t know why I should
He isn’t true
He beats me, too
What can I do?

Oh, my man, I love him so
He’ll never know
All my life is just despair
But I don’t care
When he takes me in his arms
The world is bright
All right

What’s the
difference if I
I’ll go away
When I know I’ll come back
On my knees someday

For whatever my man is
I’m his forevermore

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White American music currently comes in four main forms: rock, country, pop and, I would argue, gangsta rap.

The glory days of White American music were from about the 1940s to the 1990s. Hip hop and especially the Internet is killing off what is left of it among white performers.

White Americans, because of their wealth and numbers, have had a huge effect on world music. But in a sense most of what they listened to in the late 1900s was a British form of black American music. Of the top 20 best-selling albums in America, 15 come from Britain.

To a large degree White American music is watered-down black music. The swing music of the 1940s came from jazz, while rock and pop came from rhythm and blues (R & B) and gangsta rap from hip hop. Some of its top performers, like Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Madonna and Snoop Dogg, modelled themselves directly on black performers. (Snoop Dogg is black, but his blackness is as studied as the others’, a black in blackface.)

Disco aside, before the 1990s it was rare for whites in America to listen mainly to black music. Which is curious because it was right there at the end of the radio dial the whole time. But whites in Britain did listen to it, enough of them, which is why there have been repeated British invasions. The British would copy black music, change it a bit, and then become huge hits in White America.

In the middle 1960s rock was still a white form of black music, but then in the late 1960s The Who and other bands started to change rock into something very different.

Some things to keep in mind about White American music:

  • The melody or tune is far more important than the beat.
  • The words do not matter that much.
  • Music is largely a private experience. It is something that comes from a machine, like an iPod or a record player, not from churches and dance clubs.
  • For the most part it is not meant to make you dance or move your soul. It is more like the wallpaper of your life.
  • Apart from anger, there seems to be little deep feeling in it.

Rock sounds terrible to the untrained ear, like the noise a machine might make. You have to listen to it for a while before you can begin to understand it and enjoy it.

Gangsta rap seems to be a form of White American music. Of all the forms of hip hop it is closest to rock and sells the best, mainly to whites. Its videos and words tend to play to the worst stereotypes whites have about blacks, like the old minstrel shows. It is no more a form of black music than were the coon songs of the 1890s.

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“Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” (1943) is an American cartoon, Warner Brothers’ answer to Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). It is seven-minute long comedy set to jazz music and has an all-black cast.

Some say it is one of the best cartoons ever made, yet Cartoon Network, which owns the rights, never shows it. It was pulled from American television in 1968 and became one of the “Censored 11” – cartoons that are so thoroughly racist that editing out a racist joke here or a blackface character there could not save them.

While it is clear that it is well made and that you are supposed to be laughing your head off, it keeps hitting you over the head with image after image of blacks as being little better than monkey men, as creatures with huge lips and big eyes.

The only character who looks like a black person in a cartoon and not some creature is So White, the main character (called Coal Black in the title to avoid trouble with Disney). But even she is a stereotype: she shows way more flesh than Snow White, a sort of early video vixen.

The evil queen is a big, ugly black woman who sounds like a man.

Prince Chawmin wears a zoot suit, drives a big car and has gold teeth.

The cartoon was directed by Bob Clampett, who gave the world Porky Pig, Tweety Bird and Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. He was white. He loved jazz and got the idea for doing a black cartoon set to jazz from talking to Duke Ellington two years before.

Clampett took great pains to make the cartoon as true to black life as possible:

  • He went with his men to Club Alabam in Los Angeles to get a feel for black music and dance.
  • Clampett hired as many black musicians as the company would allow.
  • He used only black voice actors, like Dorothy Dandridge’s sister, Vivian (she plays So White).

Herb Jeffries, one of the black musicians, was proud of the cartoon. In fact, for its time it was one of the better cartoons featuring blacks!

Yet except for So White, all the black characters are drawn in blackface. Since when do black people have big white lips? But for over a hundred years whites had been watching blackface entertainers – white men with black faces who “acted black” to get laughs. It became how whites saw blacks. So much so that Clampett could not see the difference between black and blackface (neither could Mark Twain).

Even in the 1970s and 1980s Clampett still defended the cartoon:

 There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all… Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy … has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then.

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hipster (1940s)

Hipsters (1920s-1950s) were White Americans who took on Black styles of dress, language and music. They were the wiggers of their day, but they were into jazz instead of hip hop. Jack Kerouac (pictured) and Allen Ginsberg are examples. Norman Mailer called them white Negroes and considered himself one. 

They were not like present-day hipsters except for being young, urban and self-consciously cool.

Hipsters divided the world into the hip and the square. They were trying to be hip – cool, fashionable, in the know – not hopelessly square like their parents. They thought they were hip, but the Black jazz musicians they were copying did not think so.

There were maybe only 100,000 hipsters at most, but their effect on White American life has been huge. Other Whites saw them as cool and started copying them.

One measure of their effect are the new words and phrases they brought into White American English, many of them from Black English and the jazz scene:

hip, square, corny, copasetic, gravy (= profits), freebie, dig (= understand, like), with it, put down, beat, cool, creep, man (as in “Cool, man”), groovy, gimme some skin, this joint is jumping, hype, in the groove, lock up (as in “lock up a deal”), moo juice.

Some of these, like “groovy”, sound dated, but others, like “put down”, are now part of Standard English. The, like, overuse of the word like comes, like, from them.

From copying the hipsters, young Whites in the 1960s:

  • Became freer and more open about sex.
  • Used bad language more freely.
  • Smoked marijuana and started doing other drugs.
  • Looked down on the hard work and material comfort of their parents.
  • Started becoming hippies, who took it all a step further.

They were copying White people who were copying their idea of Black people.

Hipsters knew little about Blacks. They knew about the Black musicians, of course, and some even had a few Black friends and, on occasion, a Black girlfriend. But they still moved in White circles for the most part. So they filled in what they did not know about Backs with stereotype.

They saw Blacks as being everything their boring parents were not:

  • in touch with their inner selves,
  • free with their feelings,
  • in love with life,
  • carefree,
  • living for the moment,
  • not too concerned with money and steady work,
  • poor,
  • violent,
  • drug-using,
  • free with sex,
  • immoral.

This became their model of how to live!

Squares (who themselves were copying Wasps, the ruling ethnic group) were the opposite of all this. They cared too much about money and security and what other people thought of them. They were dead on the inside. That is why they had no taste in music: they liked Lawrence Welk more than Charlie Parker!

Hipsters were like blackface entertainers in some strange ways. Both saw Blacks as joyful and carefree. They used their own put-on Blackness to free themselves from the rules of White life. They saw Blacks as living beyond the rules, as free. And that is where they wanted to be, if only for a time.

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Tick Tock Diner

The Tick Tock Diner (1948- ), “the King of the New Jersey Diners”, is a northern New Jersey landmark. It is an all-night place to eat on Route 3, one of the main road that head west from New York City. Jean Shepherd used to talk about it on his old radio show. He liked the sign in front that says “Eat heavy.”

There is a Tick Tock diner in New York City too. That is a different diner.

Its busiest time is from midnight to three in the morning, when party-goers are on their way home from New York and need a bite to eat. It is just down the road from the Meadowlands, the vast swamp where Giants Stadium stands, so it gets people coming back from a game too.

Because it stands near a crossroads it gets all sorts of people. Those who want or hold public office see it as a place to go to meet “the people”. Chelsea Clinton and Governor Corzine were both there in February 2008.

I see it every day on the way home from New York. But I never ate there till this week. We went at ten on a Wednesday night (March 12th 2008).

From the road it is very noticeable, so when you walk inside it seems smaller than you expect. And nicer too. So nice that while Verizon used the outside of the diner in a 2008 television ad, it did not use the inside. (It is the ad where a man is trying to use his daughter’s pink mobile phone.)

The food is good. Much better than what you get at IHOP, Bob Evans or any of those other roadside places that serve homestyle cooking. It is not as good as, say, Red Lobster or Ruby Tuesday, but the food seems more like home cooking. It is way better than White Castle.

The servings are large, larger than you get at most places, which is nice.

Our waitress was very nice. (No, my cousin does not work there. This is not that sort of review.)

It seems like a great place to eat with friends or family, but not a place to bring a date. It is nice, but not that nice.

The cost: A big dinner for a family of four – we ordered so much food that we were all stuffed and had to take some home – cost us $72.60 (four crowns). Not bad at all for what you get.

I had the soup of the day, a Black Jack Burger, fries with gravy, a chocolate shake, tea and a brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. All great stuff. Even the tea was good.

The diner was built by Kullman, who built other diners too. It does have that Jersey diner look to it. But it has been built and rebuilt over the years. Only the clock and maybe part of the sign are from the old days.

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